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Pet Health
Behaviour Advice from Vanessa Amey

<Back to behaviour advice

Too much love

This information is to be used as guidelines only. Decisions made about the future of any pet should be based on a professional assessment and a course of treatment that is personalised for the pet's individual situation.

He's Mummy's Boy

We recently purchased a male German Shepherd puppy which is now 13 weeks old. In general the pup has adjusted well to our home and is learning quickly. The problem which is becoming more apparent daily is the dog's single person dependency. We have both noticed how the dog's approach to me changes while my wife is around. I become unimportant to the dog and often fail to get any form of greeting even after being away at work. I feed the dog regularly and do spend as much time playing with him as I can. When my wife is away, the dog greets me initially then proceeds on a search for her only to return to its bed when it fails to find her. This behaviour also extends to its toilet training. When I put the dog onto the lawn, it runs back to the door crying and scraping. Is there any way of halting this dependency? I fear that if this behaviour continues, it will become the norm for the dog and any hope of change will diminish.

Your puppy's behaviour is not uncommon. Quite often a dog will overbond with one member of the family. This is usually due to that family member being associated with all things the dog deems to be good. Reinforcing this bond, inadvertently, is exceptionally easy to do. For example, if, when your puppy has greeted you, then searches and finds your wife, she acknowledges him, this is reinforcing the behaviour. The acknowledgment need not be stroking or talking to him: just giving eye contact can be perceived as being reinforcement by the dog.

To enable the bond between you and your puppy to grow you must not try to gain his attention. He has got to need you, and you can manipulate this by becoming the provider of all things good in his life. Although it is difficult, your wife has to take a step back and distance herself as much as possible from your puppy. This means ignoring any demands for attention your puppy may make. Also, where possible, you should take over feeding, walking, grooming and all other activities in your puppy's life. I appreciate you may not be available for all feeds. You can overcome this by preparing the meals your puppy needs during your absence, so your scent is on the dishes, leaving them for your wife to place on the floor. When your wife goes to feed him ensure he is out of sight when the bowl goes down. When you are home at feeding times, make sure the puppy sees you prepare his meal, and give it to him whilst he is watching you.

Try to have tasty food rewards on you so when your puppy approaches you or looks at you, you can give him a treat. This will really make you popular in his eyes.

If your puppy has greeted you briefly and is then off searching for your wife, you know he goes to his bed if he fails to find her. Be there before him, sit on the floor, and give him a treat when he comes pass you. But do not attempt to stroke him unless he has come close and is clear that he wants you to.

With regard to toileting, ensure that every time you are home, you are the one to let him in and out of doors. Always remain calm and soft voiced: if he is feeling slightly nervous, this will relax him and allow him to feel safe. If there is something your wife does that he really enjoys, maybe having his ears stroked or anything that you can identify, copy her. The sooner you can swap roles the better because as your puppy matures this behaviour will become ingrained and possibly harder to alter.

My dog hates walks

I have had a rescue Staffordshire bull terrier for a week now. It hates going for a walk. When we go out it goes to the toilet within a few hundred yards, then wants to go home. Will the dog let me know when he wants to go to the toilet? He is 16 months old. Also how can I make him go for a walk? I presume his previous owners had trained him to do this! He is also not eating what a dog his size should eat. I presume this small appetite is due to the small amount of exercise he takes.

Being re-homed is often a very stressful time for a dog and I would hazard a guess that your dog is feeling stressed. But you do need to eliminate any possible health problems that may be causing his lack of appetite. Please take him to a vet for assessment.

Cat hates new dog

We have just rehomed Jack, our two year old Terrier. Unfortunately the cat (13yrs old) has taken an instant dislike to him. The dog loves to get close but he cat just growls, spits and heads for the high ground. This speedy withdrawal seems to hint to Jack that the game is on and a chase develops, which is leaving a trail of destruction throughout the house. What can we do to restore some sanity to the environment?

Jack is satisfying his terrier instinct and will find chasing your cat very rewarding. You need to re-direct his attention to a toy, squeaky or with movable arms/legs, that over time he will want more than your cat. Initially you will need to work with Jack when your cat is out. Show him the toy, shake or squeak it to get his attention and every time he looks at the toy reward him. Give him a food treat: not food he is given every day, but a treat that is highly appetising to him. Pet and praise him in abundance also. But do not give him the toy yet; your aim is to make him want the toy more than anything else in his life.

Once you are confident that when Jack gets sight or sound of the toy you have his attention at least 95% of the time, you can now practice when your cat is present. During this time if Jack gives you his full attention, you can now give him the toy for short play sessions. Eventually you will reach the point of Jack responding to the toy consistently and not to your cat. When you do reach this reduce the frequency of the rewards. This will encourage Jack to try harder to get his toy.

So now you should be able to get Jacks attention at anytime by shaking or squeaking his toy. If you think Jack is about to chase your cat use his toy to distract him. This will give your cat time to reach a safe haven out of Jack's reach without being chased.

Red setter that's too clingy

My red setter Rosie has been a very clingy dog ever since we got her. She was then three months old and I don't think she had been socialised properly. Anyway, we've never been able to get her to sleep on her own at night and we've tried just about everything. Eventually my husband, in desperation, brought her up to our bedroom. Now when she's there she's as good as gold, quiet, doesn't move, just snuggles up between us. Of course it's not an ideal solution. We've been thinking of getting another dog. I would like a Cavalier King Charles spaniel. Do you think if Rosie had a pal she would be less attached to us? She seems to like being with other dogs. Or would we end up with two dogs howling their heads off every night!

Yes, you are right, you would probably end up with two dogs howling every night. You need to teach Rosie that being alone is pleasurable before you could leave her with a new puppy, who would be likely to copy.

New hamster acting strange

I just bought a hamster three days ago, and he's acting a bit strange. I know that he's probably scared and not used to his surroundings, but how do I know whether his behaviour is out of fear, or illness? Can you give me some advice, or a website where I can get some information?...thank you in advance.

All new pets should be checked over by a vet. If your Hamster has not yet been seen by a vet I would advise booking him an appointment sooner rather than later.

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